- There is more than symbolism in Taiwan losing seven allies since the independence-leaning president took office in 2016
Taipei can never hope to compete with the economic might of Beijing when it comes to offering aid and financial support to other governments. The decision by Kiribati and the Solomon Islands in the past week to switch diplomatic relations is therefore unsurprising. But there is more than symbolism in Taiwan losing seven allies since Tsai Ing-wen took the presidency in 2016, reducing the number of nations that recognise it to just 15. China's influence in the central and south Pacific is expanding despite the best efforts of Western powers.
The shift is to be expected; Beijing is best placed to serve the development needs of the region's nations. Chinese state-owned companies have been stepping up efforts to build infrastructure, with eyes on expanding the reach of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative. As part of a strategy to maintain Western geopolitical influence in the south Pacific, the United States and Australia had been lobbying the islands' politicians to maintain support for Taiwan, the latter even luring away construction of a fibre-optic cable to the Solomons originally earmarked for the Chinese firm Huawei. But Kiribati still switched sides on Friday, four days after the Solomons.
There are now fears in Taipei of a domino effect among the four remaining Pacific nations that recognise the island. The Solomons was the most populous; the US is bound to heighten diplomatic efforts to keep them on side. But the strategy has repeatedly failed under the independence-leaning Tsai, who refuses to acknowledge a 1992 agreement between Beijing and Taipei that there is one China. With her seeking re-election in January and the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on October 1, it was inevitable that Beijing would heighten efforts to pull away supporters.
The Vatican remains Taiwan's most important diplomatic ally, but speculation that even those ties could falter have been rife since last year when the Holy See and Beijing signed a historic deal on the joint appointment of Catholic bishops; the first such ordination was made last month. Taiwanese attempts to keep international allies are economically draining. Tsai would do better focusing on improving relations with the mainland.
Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.